- Robbi Pickeral, College Basketball
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North Carolina coach Roy Williams doesn’t know exactly what he’ll learn about his 11th-ranked Tar Heels (2-0) over the next week, as they head west to play at Long Beach State (1-1) on Friday night followed by Maui Invitational matchups on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
But, he added last weekend, “I hope we learn we’re good.”
The last couple of times the Tar Heels traveled to Hawaii, Williams knew they were good. The 2004-05 and 2008-09 teams were chock full of experience, and not only won the Thanksgiving tournament (in the case of ’05, after losing at Santa Clara on its stopover game), but went on to win national titles.
It’s a little different this time around. The team that plays the 49ers at the packed Pyramid at 11 p.m. ET features a freshman point guard, questions about its outside shooting and lingering indecision about who should start at center.
And while Long Beach State doesn’t have quite the experience of past seasons, when it played the Tar Heels close at the Smith Center -- Casper Ware, as well as three other starters from last year, are gone -- this will mark UNC’s first road game. That’s a test for the Tar Heels, who have four new starters, themselves.
“We’re going to learn a lot,” UNC forward James Michael McAdoo said. “ … Because all these games that are coming up are going to be at a whole other level than these past two games.”
A few things to watch against Long Beach State:
The 49ers may have a new look -- what with 6-foot-7 All-Big West honorable mention selection James Ennis the only returning starter -- but the atmosphere at the Pyramid won’t.
LBSU holds the second-longest home winning streak in the nation (23 in a row), and the school takes pride in creating a loud, boisterous home atmosphere. Long Beach State has even added temporary seating to raise capacity to 6,800, and it will be interesting to see how UNC reacts.
Tar Heels freshman Marcus Paige will be making only his third start at point guard, and his level of poise could set the tone. He’s facing a squad that’s thin at his position. LBSU freshman point guard Branford Jones is out with a broken fibula, and junior guard Jerramy King is sidelined for the season with a shoulder injury. That leaves the 49ers with only one true (and healthy) point guard in starting sophomore Mike Caffey.
Entering the season, Williams said he was more worried about his team offensively than defensively.
Now we see why.
Although the Tar Heels have shot 45.1 percent in their first two games, they’ve struggled from long distance. They have connected only on 7-of-27 3-pointers, with Paige going 0-for-6 in that category, sophomore P.J. Hairston 1-for-7 and redshirt junior Leslie McDonald 1-for-3.
McAdoo, a 6-9 forward, leads the team (22.5 ppg) in scoring, and junior wing Reggie Bullock was more aggressive against Florida Atlantic, finishing with 16 points. But the Tar Heels need some other players to consistently connect in order to keep things open for their two leaders.
Williams predicted his squad would be a good outside shooting team.
Now would be a good time to show it.
UNC is shooting a measly 45.7 percent (21-for-46) from the foul line. Yikes.
Follow Robbi Pickeral on Twitter at @bylinerp.
31dJeff Goodman and Jeff Borzello
31dJeff Goodman and Jeff Borzello